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Overwatch Beta
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Overwatch Beta

Demonstrates how Blizzard’s classic easy-to-learn, hard-to-master paradigm translates well to a team-based shooter.

E3 is coming up, which is important for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most significant of these: we’re running out of games on the list of upcoming releases! We need E3 like we need a refreshing glass of water. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any releases until then, though; there are still a few heavy hitters left, like 2K’s Battleborn, Sony’s Uncharted 4, and Blizzard’s upcoming Overwatch.

Like many of you, I recently had the chance to try out Overwatch’s closed beta and ended up being pleasantly surprised. Let’s take a look!

Overwatch plays a lot like Team Fortress 2. Chances are you knew that already, but in case you didn’t: this is basically Blizzard Fortress 2. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that; the games industry is inherently incestuous and Team Fortress 2 is a pretty solid game besides, so this actually works out really well. You’ve got six-person teams on both sides given basic objectives to accomplish, typically involving standing on a control point or walking near a…well, moving control point in order to keep it going.

As with Team Fortress 2, you’ve got a selection of classes to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that make them more or less suited to various tasks. Mascot character Tracer, for instance, focuses on speed and mobility, using short-ranged teleports to rapidly dash around the stage and harass enemy players. Robo-monk Zenyatta is able to buff and debuff players, significantly affecting their performance and shifting the tide of battle. For players who want a more direct option, the hulking Reinhart has a shield, a dash and a giant hammer, all of which are used pretty much exactly as one would expect.

These and around 20 others are all yours to command; here’s where we mention the one of the nicer things about Overwatch, which is that all these heroes are unlocked and playable right from the start. This is one of the issues that hurts Blizzard’s DOTA clone Heroes of the Storm a bit in my mind, since you have to pay for playable characters in that one and they can be a little pricey. In Overwatch, the variety of options immediately offered to all players can be a little overwhelming at first but leads to a more exciting and dynamic game experience.

Overwatch’s matches tend to be quick, snappy affairs; this shooter lies on the Call of Duty end the of time-to-kill hierarchy, so being surprised is a death sentence as you’ll go down in mere moments. Map knowledge and experience with your chosen heroes are what’s going to win you games here; later, you’ll want to work on efficient teamwork with other players, though as usual random players tend to be content to just wander off and get shot. As each match’s objectives amount to “stand here,” it’s easy enough to get the hang of what you’re doing and where to go to do it. Overwatch, then, becomes an easy drop-in and drop-out game with fundamentals that are easily understood.

It’s all the cute fluff that really takes Overwatch to the next level, though. The modern paradigm in multiplayer games lately is diminishing “toxicity,” basically people being big ol’ meanyfaces to others. Overwatch accomplishes this in a number of ways, including minimizing the impact of kill-death ratio on performance metrics, tracking the contribution of healers and tanks more effectively and ensuring that new matches start quickly. That’s not to say that you can’t stand out, though as individual glory is available in a number of ways. In particular, the per-match Play of the Game displays the biggest, most bombastic move from a given player as a replay for everyone to marvel at. Even if you don’t make Play of the Game, though, Overwatch keeps track of your most impressive highlights automatically and allows you to rewatch them at your leisure.

Victory earns you experience points, which in turn earns you levels, like pretty much every other multiplayer shooter out there in The Year of Our Lord 2006. Levels will earn you Loot Boxes, which contain cosmetics for your various heroes. This is a nice touch that doesn’t interfere with gameplay, since the contents of Boxes only affect aesthetics, and it’s always fun to crack open a Box between matches. If you’re after a specific skin, emote or voice pack, Boxes can also contain currency that you can save up to purchase whatever you’d like.

Overwatch’s presentation is one of the highlights of the game, of course; everything is beautifully designed and animated. The overall feel is something like a sci-fi Pixar movie, which should be familiar to players who have watched the excellent animated promo shorts for this game. At the moment there are some issues with connection errors and lag at times, but it’s reasonable to expect that these will be addressed, and the game is solidly playable for a good 90% of the time.

Overwatch isn’t officially set for release until May 24th but it already feels like a refreshing take on the average shooter. The focus on gameplay over stats is always appreciated, and Blizzard’s classic easy-to-learn, hard-to-master paradigm translates well to a team-based shooter. It’s absolutely worth a look for, well…pretty much anyone who doesn’t grow violently ill at the thought of playing yet another first-person shooter!